Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Enell Ambassador Race Recap & Review: Pittsburgh Half Marathon

Note: As an ENELL Racing Ambassador, I receive race entry fees and merchandise, but I genuinely love the brand. All opinions here are my own. 

Last month, I ran the Pittsburgh Half Marathon for the third time in a row- well, as long as you count running the full last year as running the half too! My first experience with Pittsburgh Marathon weekend was in 2014; I fell in love with the city, the people, and this race so Matthew and I have been traveling west every year to do it.

As you'll remember, we ran the 5k on Saturday morning. That afternoon, our running Ohana (Coach Jeff, Mandy, Lauren, Gloria, Chelsea, Lauren B., Kelsey, Kathleen, and some others) had dinner at Chelsea's house and talked about our race strategies. It would be Lauren's first full marathon (you can read about it here) so much of our conversation centered around last-minute tips for what was looking like a rainy, stormy race day.

After chatting for a while- and eating tons of food- Gloria, Matthew and I headed back to Steff and Joe's. Luckily for us, while Steff and Joe were out of town at Flying Pig race weekend, they let us stay at their house so we didn't have to get a hotel for the weekend- thanks, friends!

We laid out our clothes, discussed what time we'd be leaving in the morning, and then tried to get some sleep. Matthew and I had talked about what race he was going to run. He'd signed up for the marathon but because life gets in the way (hello, wedding planning), he wasn't trained the way he wanted to be. The great thing about Pittsburgh is that the full and half follow the same course until mile 11. So we planned to run miles 1-11 together and then depending on how he felt, Matthew would turn off to run 16 more miles and I'd head down to the finish. But, like most things, this didn't work out quite like we'd thought.

1. This Enell tank is AWESOME.
2. How perfect was the Dazzling Blue as "something blue" for my last race as a single lady?

Race morning, we drove into the city and parked fairly easily. Thankfully, Gloria is a Pittsburgh expert and helped us navigate the city streets and find a great parking garage. We headed to the hotel that had the VIP area (some of our running Ohana are fancy-pants and got the VIP package :-) ) and hung out in the lobby with some of our friends. The weather forecast was looking horrible- rain and storms off and on all day. As we headed out to the corrals, it was cloudy and humid but wasn't raining yet. Gloria, Matthew and I were all starting in the last corral (D) and though it was a bit of a cluster getting there- the road we were all walking on was somehow STILL OPEN to traffic (YIKES!)- we had no problem checking our bags and then finding a place to stand in the crowd. And then we found Kelsey! I love finding friends in the corral :-)

Race mornings are for friends. 
Don't you know? The party's always in the back of the pack!

As we were waiting to start, it started raining. And it was one of those cold, crappy rains. So Matthew and I huddled together as we shuffled towards the start line. Since my toe was still a little cranky (ingrown toenail issues), we were just going to take the race nice and slow. Our first few miles averaged around 11:30- 12 minute miles.

Around mile 4, we ran into Karen, our friend Brandi's mom. She asked us what intervals we were doing (30:30) and then asked if she could run with us for a while. This was Karen's ninth half marathon but only her second without Brandi by her side- Brandi was running for time at Pittsburgh so they were racing separately. So our running duo became a trio and we kept trucking along, albeit a little slower than we'd thought. Karen was struggling a little bit with the humidity and without having her usual running partner by her side.

A few miles later, Matthew let me know that he'd decided he wasn't going to turn off for the full. He said, "This was meant to be. We were meant to help Karen get to the finish line." So that became our new goal- get Karen to the finish line of her very first Pittsburgh half marathon. Karen is actually originally from Pittsburgh but now resides in Georgia. When we got to the bridge that is opposite "the point" around mile six, Momma K (Karen) says to us, "I've been dreaming of this moment!" I might have cried a little :-)

Check out that scenery.
So. Many. Bridges.

I absolutely LOVED running with my veil and the countdown on my back- "20 days til Mrs.!" Runners and spectators all along the course shouted out words of encouragement and even some marriage advice. My favorite was when another female runner shouted out to me, "You know what the best part of a wedding is?" I said, "What?" She said, "The marriage that comes after." I can't even type it without tearing up! It was so much fun- I'm even more convinced runners (and spectators) are the best people on the planet.

The miles ticked by and we tried to keep each other distracted from the rising heat and humidity. It had stopped raining halfway through the race but was very muggy. Gross! When we got to mile 10, Matthew insisted that we do a dance. It was pretty damn hilarious.

Maybe they're moon-walking?!

If you've ever run this course, then you know that just past the last bridge at mile 11, you begin a grueling, mile-long uphill. It completely sucks the energy out of you at a time when you're already pretty tired and your feet/legs are killing you. Well, this year, some heavenly spectator decided to station herself on the bridge with a huge sign that said "You've come this far! Now get the F up the hill!" Which is pretty funny on it's own but then, just past the sign, there were two more people handing out literal "F's" on small pieces of paper for runners to literally carry up the hill. Hands down, the most creative sign I've ever seen on a race course!

Clever :-)

After conquering the monster hill, we began our descent to the finish line. Just a few miles later, we crossed the finish line in three hours and some change (3:11) and officially earned the title "Runners of Steel." We grabbed some finisher's pictures and then headed through the chute to get our food. However, there was barely anything left. The same thing happened last year after the marathon- somehow this race ALWAYS runs out of food for the back of the pack. In fact, at mile nine, there was supposed to be Gu and some fruit chews but when we got there, there was nothing. Honestly, it is such crap- we finished well within the four-hour time limit and should have been entitled to the same food and course support as the first finishers. It is irritating to say the least. Anyway, we headed towards the finishers festival in Point Park to grab our bags, Steel Challenge medals, free beer, and then went back to the finish line to cheer for our friends running the full marathon.

Chelsea, Lauren, and Coach Jeff rounding the corner to the finish of Lauren's FIRST marathon!

After all our friends had finished and we were able to say our goodbyes, we walked with Coach Jeff back to the finisher's festival so he could pick up his bag. While there, we got to take some other cool pictures with some props that the Pittsburgh Marathon folks provided. This was new this year and I have to say, it was a pretty cool improvement.

How handsome is this finisher?!

Happy to be finished and to have found a cool background for yet another finisher pic ;-)

All in all, it was another successful Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend. Will we be back in 2017? Only time will tell. There are some other races that we are thinking about next spring and we may have to make some tough decisions regarding how often we'll be able to travel for out-of-town races- especially since we are headed back to Walt Disney World for Marathon Weekend 2017; Dopey for Matthew, full Marathon for me. We'll just have to wait and see if a return to Pittsburgh is in our future :-)

Steel Challenge (5k + half or full or relay) Finisher medals.

What's the best sign you've seen on a race course?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Race Recap & Review: Pittsburgh Marathon 5k

For the third year in a row, I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon 5k on April 30th this year. The Pittsburgh Marathon/Half Marathon is always on a Sunday and a few years ago, they started offering a 5k on Saturday morning.

Last year, Gloria and I ran this together as we both wanted to take it easy the day before the half. We had the same plan for this year- with the addition of Matthew! He wasn't able to make it for 2015 so I was super excited to have him join us for 2016. This race is a point to point- we started by PNC Park and finished near Point State Park, just a few miles away.

5k course map. Source.

It was down right cold the morning of the race- probably in the low 40's but because of the high humidity it felt MUCH cooler. I wore a sparkle skirt, short sleeved shirt, and a long sleeved throw-away shirt (that I actually kept on until after mile 1). We met up with all our running ohana and some other Pittsburgh friends, snapped a few pictures, and then Gloria, Matthew and I headed towards the back of the pack to wait for the race start. Our plan was to take the 5k slow and to really just enjoy the run.

Gloria, Matthew and me- freezing but ready to go!

Luckily for us, this course is pretty flat so it was easy to stick to our race plan. We took our time, averaging about 12-13 minute miles. I felt good the entire race- I knew I was under trained going into the weekend so I was grateful to feel great at a slower pace.

We grabbed selfies at each mile marker as we chatted and caught up on each other's lives; the miles flew by. One of the things I love about this course is the amount of spectators that come out for an early morning race- especially on a cold morning! There were tons of folks out holding signs, clapping and cheering, and giving out high fives. There's just an energy in Pittsburgh that's hard to describe but it makes for an awesome race-day atmosphere.

Gloria and Matthew crossing the lone bridge of the course. 
My favorite sign on the course :-)

We finished in 37:18, collected our medals and mini "Eat'n Park" cookies, and headed to the finish line festival to meet our running ohana. This year, as in past years, the 5k medal was a smaller replica of the marathon/half marathon medals. It's always a nice treat to get a medal for a 5k :-) Once everyone finished, we set out to find something to eat and ended up at Cherries Diner- this little hole-in-the-wall that had like 10 tables in it and one waitress. But the food was pretty awesome so I can't complain too much!

Pittsburgh swag is always pretty cool.

After we ate, a friend of mine from the internet (I know that sounds weird, but hear me out) came to meet us at the restaurant! Kelly (aka @curvyfitgirl) and I "met" through twitter and a shared interest of healthy living and Weight Watchers. It was so awesome to meet her in person- she is just as sweet and inspirational in real life as she is online! We got to spend some time together after breakfast, walking around the city and checking out the expo again. She fit right in with our ohana- she is super sweet and supportive; I'm so glad we finally got to meet in person!

Blogger + Friend = Blends

Pros of this race: mostly-flat course, lots of spectators, finisher's medal, finisher's cookies, and lots of runner support (water stops, medical aid, etc.).

Cons of this race: ....I got nothing. Seriously, this is an awesome little race!

Stay tuned for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon recap- coming soon!

Did you run Pittsburgh this year? If so, what'd you think? If not, what's your favorite 5k experience?

Friday, June 10, 2016

Product Review: CozyPhones

Hello, friends! I hope you are enjoying your Friday!

Before I start this product review, here are answers to some questions I've been asked lately:
  • Yes, the wedding was awesome! Matthew and I were surrounded in a cocoon of love from each other and family and friends and it was probably one of the funnest days of my life.
  • Yes, the honeymoon was amazing! Five nights in Disney, seven nights on a Disney Cruise, and one last night in the World was the most perfect start to our marriage. 
  • Yes, I'm sad to be home and back to reality! Monday was awful because I had to wear real pants for the first time in 16 days AND I didn't get an afternoon nap on the beach. #sadpanda

I promise to write tons more posts in the next few weeks including Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend recaps and a review of our fourth Disney Cruise on the Disney Fantasy- our first time on that ship.

In the meantime, I am excited to review a fun product today- CozyPhones! The folks at CozyPhones reached out to me a few weeks ago and sent me a set of their active/lycra headband headphones to review.

The headphones came with a black storage bag and an index card with fitting instructions. 

I was super pumped to try these out for a few reasons: 1. I have seen some similar products on the market but was skeptical of how well they would work so I hadn't bought any. 2. Even though I LOVE my Yurbuds for running, when I've been wearing them (or really any "in-your-ear" type of headphones for more than two hours, my ears start to hurt. As you know, I'm a back-of-the-pack runner so my long runs are frequently longer than two hours so I frequently have ear pain after long runs.

I've used CozyPhones for several activities- running, weight lifting, and to help me fall asleep at night while listening to guided meditation on YouTube :-) Overall, they are pretty cool for a number of reasons, some of which I've highlighted below.

Quality of Materials
These are really nicely made. They headband is super soft and stretchy and quite comfortable. The headphones are advertised as "non-tangle" and that is 100% accurate! The headphone cord is braided and doesn't "cling" to itself the way many other headphone cords do.

Sound Quality
Surprisingly, these headphones have decent sound quality. They are not as great as the Yurbuds I normally wear but I actually think I may prefer the Cozy Phones for outdoor running because you can still hear what's going on around you as you enjoy your playlist. In other words, they don't block out all other sound the way most headphones do. I think these are a bit safer than a traditional headphone for outdoor/road running.

In addition, though it looks like these headphones would "leak" sound, they totally didn't. I put them on, turned the volume up, and sat right next to Matthew- he couldn't hear a thing!

I really, really liked how the headphone cord ran down the back of the headband. It was really nice to work out without having to tuck the extra cord in my sports bra, LOL :-) Also, the actual headphones are these soft little disks that are adjustable within the headband. These were super comfortable for sleeping as I could lay on my side and not feel the headphones at all- not something you can do with traditional headphones.

These felt a bit loose to me. I would have preferred a tighter fit so the actual headphones were closer to my ear. While they didn't slip much while working out, I'm not sure how well they would stay where they are supposed to during a long run.

The headphone-disks inside the headband are easy to adjust but that also means that they have a tendency to move around while in use. This may be because the headband was a little loose but I'm not 100% sure.

Practical Use
Right now, for summer running, these aren't very practical. It's too hot to wear anything on your ears/head. However, I think these could be really awesome for fall/winter weather- they would act as two things in one: an ear warmer and a pair of headphones.

Overall, these are a cool product that I'm happy to add into my rotation of running stuff. To be honest, my favorite use of these headphones has been to help fall asleep at night. One of the most important (and often most neglected) factors of marathon training is getting quality sleep. I like to use guided meditation or other ambient noise (via YouTube) to help fall asleep and these headphones make it easier and more comfortable to do that.

Perfect for catching some Z's

What kind of headphones do you use for running, working out, sleeping, etc? Have you ever used headphones to help you sleep?

Disclaimer: CozyPhones provided me with a set of headphones to review on this blog. I did not receive compensation in exchange for this review. As always, all opinions are on my own.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Five Things Friday: Special Wedding Edition!

Hello, friends! It feels like it's been forever since I've posted here. I've been just a tad busy planning a wedding ;-) But- today- I give you a very special edition of Five Things Friday!

1. A long time ago, Matthew was born and raised in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

2. Slightly less of a long time ago, I was born and raised in suburban Baltimore-area, Maryland.

3. In March 2011, we met at a conference and quickly started spending all our time together.

4. In May 2015, Matthew asked me to marry him and I said yes.

5. And tomorrow, we get MARRIED!

THANK YOU for being part of our journey, part of our story, and for all your support, comments, and love. I promise to resume blogging regularly after the honeymoon :-)

If you want to follow along with all the wedding shenanigans, feel free to search for the hashtag #mcshuppwedding on instagram and twitter.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Accountability Monday: April 25, 2016

Good morning, friends!

In the midst of the insanity that is wedding planning, I've finally gotten my stuff together enough to post an Accountability Monday! [high fives self]

This damn ingrown toenail has thrown a real wrench into my training plan for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon- which is next weekend (!). After last month's Shamrock Half, my left big toe was a little tender and red. I let it go for a few weeks, chalking it up to having just run a half marathon. But two weeks ago, I finally went to the podiatrist- she diagnosed me with an ingrown toenail. Whomp, whomp.

Luckily, it is in the beginning stages and won't require any surgical intervention- yet. I've been soaking it twice a day in hot water and epsom salt and putting pieces of cotton under the edge of the nail to encourage it to grow out instead of in. In two weeks, the swelling has gone down considerably and the pain has lessened substantially. Yesterday I was able to run three relatively pain-free miles. Fingers crossed it doesn't give me any trouble during next week's races in Pittsburgh- 5k on Saturday, half marathon on Sunday.

Sunday- 3.18 miles in 37:28, 11:48 pace

Stats from Map My Run. Love seeing negative splits!

Food Find:
This weekend, Matthew and I were out of town visiting family and we made a trip to a Wegman's- we don't have one close to us so I don't go to one very often. I had heard that they carried a specific type of low-fat, low-sugar ice cream called "Halo Top" and I was anxious to try some when I found it in the store.

It. Was. Amazing! Seriously, I ate the whole pint (two cups) and it was only nine points! Regular ice cream would have been 27 points for the same amount! 27! Do yourself a favor this week and get to a Wegman's so you can have some of this delicious little bit of heaven.

Ice cream makes my smile extra cheesy!
146.2 as of 4/20/16

Non-Scale Victory:
I went to a baby shower yesterday and did not take the favor home- it was a little carton of M&M's and Animal Crackers. I ate a few and left it on the table- had I taken it, I would have eaten it all in the car on the way home and wasted points on food that I can get any day of the week. Leaving food on the table will always be a huge victory for me :-)

Enjoy the last week of April! What are you looking forward to in May?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Race Recap & Review: Shamrock Half Marathon 2016

Wet. Cold. Windy.

That about sums it up.

When Jen asked me a few months ago if we (meaning me and Matthew) wanted to go down and do the Shamrock Half Marathon again, I wasn't too keen on going down. For one, Matthew and I have been trying to save money as our wedding is literally around the corner (30 DAYS!). Secondly, driving to VA Beach is a pain in the butt because of this little town in Virginia called Fredericksburg. It doesn't matter what time of day you travel through this town, there will be ridiculous amounts of traffic. I just don't understand it. Anyways, Jen enticed me with free race photos (because Shamrock is AWESOME and totally has the runner's interests at heart) so Matthew and I registered for the half.

You may recall that my current PR is from this race in 2014 and last year in 2015, this was my "don't call it a comeback" half marathon that was also my little brother's first half marathon. So Matthew and I were both very familiar with the course and knew we would have an amazing time at the race. J&A Racing (the company that puts on Shamrock) really puts on a phenomenal race: flat course, gorgeous medals, beautiful tech-shirts, finisher's hat and beach towel, four post-race beers, live entertainment on-course and at the after party, and new for 2016, free race photos! How could we have said no?

So super early on a Saturday morning, we left our homes in south central PA and started driving down to VA Beach. The expo closed at five pm so we had a deadline to meet. Then all the DC/VA traffic happened- mid-day on a Saturday. A drive that was supposed to take five hours ended up taking close to eight! We mad-dashed into the expo a little after four pm and grabbed all the goodies we wanted before they closed at five. They were selling last year's long-sleeved cotton 8k shirts and beach towels for $1 so we all bought some for the next day as throw-away clothes- the weather was predicted to be a little rainy and cold; in the mid-30's to 40's for most of the race. After getting what we needed, we carb-loaded at a little pizza shop close to our hotel and crashed early.

The next morning, it was clear I had not packed enough for the weather- I think it was around 39 degrees and extremely windy. I had a thin tank top and thin long-sleeved shirt. Luckily, Jen let me borrow her Under Armour Cold Gear long-sleeved shirt. I wore the tank, a pair of pants, and calf compression socks as my base layer and then the Under Armour shirt, a Sparkle Athletic skirt, a Cold Gear Under Armour hat, my finisher's hat from last year, gloves, and a light rain jacket as my top layer. It really wouldn't matter what we wore because the moment we got parked near the start line it started raining. And I don't mean, a little light rain that feels awesome when you run. I mean, an ice-cold, windy downpour that stings your skin. Reluctantly, we all decided to leave our phones in the car and made plans to meet up after the race back at the car where we could at least sit in heat and warm up.

Before we got out of the warm, dry car. 

The towels that we brought were soon soaked through as we huddled together in the corral waiting to start. Jeff and Matthew were going to run their own races; Jen and I were going to stick together. Any hopes I'd had of running a fast race were gone the minute I looked outside to see the weather. This was going to be a "just get to the damn finish" kind of race.

When it was finally our turn to start, I was honestly super worried that I wouldn't be able to finish. It was absolutely freezing and miserable. Had we not driven the eight hours to get there, I might have not even gone to the starting line- it was that awful out.

Once we got moving, it got a little less miserable. Miles 1-4 were pretty uneventful as we ran through the neighborhoods toward Fort Story. The rain started to let up about an hour into the race; after we were already soaked of course :-) Thank God for free photos because I'd left my phone in the car- didn't want to risk it getting ruined in the rain!

We are THRILLED to be running in the rain.

Once we got into Fort Story, we made a quick pit stop at the medical tent for Jen- she had a toe that was rubbing another toe and irritating her so she needed to get a band aid. The true testament to friendship is helping someone get a wet, sweaty sock off their foot and then helping get it back on, mid-race :-)

Jen and I kept a close eye on our mile times and were surprised with how consistent and (semi)fast we were being. Each mile was hovering between 11 and 11:30. Even with the wind in Fort Story, we were able to keep pushing the pace and concentrating on getting to the finish line. My current half PR is 2:28 and while I knew we wouldn't reach that, I was hoping for anything sub 2:35.

Good morning, lighthouse! Gotta love a blurry, free race photo!

Once we left the military base, we headed back on the long stretch towards the boardwalk finish. Highlights of this part of the course? Listening to The Imperial March from Star Wars being played as we cruised through a water/aid station with cookies! Also, the mimosas around mile five were oh so refreshing! There was plenty of beer on the course this year but Jen and I declined- we were waiting for those ice-cold Yuenglings at the post-race party.

The last few miles felt like they would go on forever.  I was so glad Jen was with me because she really helped push me out of my "comfortable pace" zone and kept us hovering around the 11:30 minute mile mark.

At last, we saw the finish line as we turned onto the boardwalk. All I could think about was getting somewhere warm and out of these soaking wet clothes. We raced towards the end and crossed the finish line at 2:35:41; just 42 seconds over where I wanted to be.

Jen and I got our medals, our finisher's hat, our beach towels, tons of food, and a cute bag to carry it all in. Then we headed towards the party tent to get some hot stew, a cold beer, and then head back to the car. On our way into the tent, we found Jeff but didn't end up seeing Matthew (he went straight back to the car). After a beer and some pictures on the beach, we went back to the car to warm up.


Finally out of the rain!

After an awesome hot shower, we got back on the road and began our long, traffic-filled journey home. While no one can control the weather, J&A did a fabulous job of still making the race enjoyable for the runners. Cold rain and wind are never good conditions to run in but... it does make me feel like a total bad ass for running my second-fastest half marathon in terrible weather conditions.

So, will we be back for a fourth year in a row? Maybe! The drive sucks but the race and the organization is superb to other races. Time will tell if we do this one again but overall, it was a great experience- even if the weather was terrible! :-)

Have you ever run a half marathon in cold/rain/snow/terrible weather? Share your stories and strategies below!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Accountability Monday: March 28, 2016

Well hello there friends! It feels like ages since I've posted though, in reality, it's only been a week and a half. Lately, my life has been very... full.

It looks something like this: March/April are the busiest months of the year at my work- think 50-60 hours per week including regular nights and weekends. I'm leading two Weight Watchers meetings on Monday and Thursday nights so I don't get home until 7:30 pm. There are only eight weeks left until Matthew and I get married so our weekends and other "free" nights are filled with meetings with our vendors, fittings for gowns/suits, writing our vows, creating a seating chart, wrapping wedding party gifts, planning our wedding day 5k, etc.

So yeah, life's felt a little hectic lately.

When there's a lot going on in my life, some things inevitably fall to the bottom of the priority list. Unfortunately, it seems like training and blogging have been the casualty of my busy schedule. Yuck. I hate even writing that sentence :-/

I love running. I love training. And I love blogging. I'm not willing to give any of those up permanently. But, I might have to temporarily adjust the frequency based on the other super-exciting things happening in my life.

So what does that mean for this space? I'll still post as often as I can though there may not be an "Accountability Monday" each week. Race recaps and reviews will still happen- I've got a Shamrock post in the pipeline and still have a few races on the schedule between now and the wedding/honeymoon. While I might not be posting here as often over the next eight- ten weeks, I'll still be micro-blogging/posting on instagram a few times a week so if you're not already following me there, please do!

Here's my last week, in typical "Accountability Monday" form!

Saturday- 2.86 miles, 11:07 pace. 45 minutes hiking with my family.
Sunday- Strength training circuit including squats, lunges, and glute bridges.

Rule-breaker hiker.

Food Find of the Week:
In a recent Weight Watchers cookbook (the one that comes in the Starter Kit), I found a recipe for overnight oats that includes a mix of dried fruit, fresh fruit, cinnamon-vanilla soy milk, and pecans- so good! I even made them in a mason jar for the full, pinterest-worthy effect. :-)

Mine looked almost as good as that picture.

147.4 as of 3/24/16.

Non-Scale Victory: 
With my bridal shower rapidly approaching, I went shopping for a dress this weekend and ended up with a beautiful, cream sleeveless dress with a navy and light blue flower pattern that makes me feel confident and gorgeous. It's kinda awesome to feel confident and pretty in a light-colored dress :-)

And your fun fact for the week? Five years ago today, I met Matthew and my life changed for the better in so many profound ways. Five years down, a lifetime to go. Happy "day-we-met" anniversary, Matthew! :-)

This dude makes my heart super happy.